Saovaroj Kitikanchana, aka Lek, is a real sushi lover. In the old days, she often visited her Japanese friend at home for dinner. And every time, there was a sushi dish.
Her passion for sushi grew stronger and inspired her to make sushi of her own. She began to take courses about sushi-making and practised almost every day.
With 6 years of experience, today Lek is the owner of "Lek Cooking School". Her sushi-making courses have gained attention from many sushi lovers. And with the rise of Japanese food fever in Thailand, many have taken the courses with an aim to start a sushi business of their own.
Lek said the sushi market in Thailand is still thriving, especially lower-priced sushi that is normally sold on the street, or so-called "5-baht sushi". There are still huge opportunities for this type of business to grow, she assured.
"If the demand for Japanese food in upper-class Japanese restaurants is still there, those 5-baht sushi businesses will continue to grow. The key target is those sushi lovers who can't afford the pricey sushi offered by the Japanese restaurants," she explained.
The rising number of students joining her classes is proof that demand is still solid.
At Lek Cooking School, several sushi courses are offered to serve all interested sushi lovers.
The basic sushi course teaches students from the start - how to cook the rice properly, how to make sweet egg and wasabi. Also included are methods and techniques on slicing fish meat and making basic sushi such as Maki Sushi, Nigiri Sushi, Inari Sushi, California Roll and California Temaki.
The key target is those sushi lovers who can’t afford the pricey sushi offered by the Japanese restaurants. - Saovaroj Kitikanchana
Other lessons include how to make "fancy sushi" by adding creativity into the food and its design.
Lek said the "fancy sushi" course is more like an art lesson. One sushi can be made into different shapes and figures such as a flower, butterfly, panda, or dragonfly.
Though it looks nice, "fancy sushi" normally takes a lot of time and requires experience to make.
Each lesson normally takes 6 hours. Lek said the course always guarantees a result, with 95% of students being able to make sushi at the end of the course.
Starting a sushi business
Lek's son, Bundit Kitikanchana, is now helping his mother manage the cooking school.
Bundit said that more than 90% of Lek Cooking School students can start a sushi business after finishing the course. Most of them open 5-baht sushi businesses at home or at a market, while people who have more money open a sushi restaurant or even run a franchise.
"I suggest business owners start slowly from the beginning. They can try selling the products at home or at the market in a small quantity first and see how it goes. If it's doing well, then they can think of expanding the business," Bundit said.
The starting budget for a sushi business can be as minimal as 5,000 baht. This cost is for raw materials and some kitchenware and appliances necessary to make sushi.
If the students have a bigger budget, then they should invest in a good location and other marketing schemes such as advertising and promotion.
Bundit stressed that location is one of the key factors of success. A business-owner should find a good location that suits their target market.
For instance, if they want to sell 5-baht sushi, then markets might be a good location.
Raw materials for sushi are now provided in ready-made packaging that sometimes can be kept for a year.
"It's an easy business. We don't need to do marketing that often since we can stock our raw materials in the refrigerator for quite a long time," Bundit added.
All materials, rice and all sushi toppings, are produced domestically. Japanese rice is grown in Northern Provinces like Chiang Rai while shrimp, eggs and seaweed are sent from neighbouring provinces like Samut Prakan.
Sushi business management
Though the business is promising, the competition is steep. The reason is that the business requires only a trivial amount of cash investment.
Thus, to survive, the shop owners need to have a good strategy and selling points, Bundit stressed.
To compete well, he said, sushi taste and appearance are the key factors.
If the sushi looks presentable, it can help boost sales.
Finding new raw materials as toppings to attract the consumers is also a good idea. Currently, there are more than 20 raw materials available for sushi topping, including raw tuna.
Since the entry capital for the street-side sushi business is relatively low, making the business profitable isn't a far-off dream. Basically, the cost for one regular sushi is around 2 to 2.5 baht a piece while the selling price can be 5 to 7 baht. The price can rise to 10 to 12 baht for sushi with special ideas and ingredients.
If store owners can sell up to 200 pieces a day, they can earn up to 1,000 baht, which adds up to 30,000 baht a month.
"However, some raw materials are more expensive than others. You need to use them wisely. And always calculate how many sushi you can make from the materials. Controlling costs is necessary," Bundit said.
Expensive raw materials like abalone, jellyfish or scallops must be utilised wisely in order to keep the cost low. Preserving the products that are left over at the end of the day must be done carefully.
"If the proper method is used, sushi can still be kept for another night in the refrigerator. But the taste won't be the same as newly-made ones."
At the beginning of the business, he said, surely things seem hard with tons of problems awaiting. However, once it takes off, it's a good business.
What the students say
Suttipoch Phattarasinbohdee, currently the owner of a steak house restaurant, said that he joined the sushi course in order to expand his business.
"I'm planning to have a more international food restaurant and sushi really fits in. Thai people like sushi and it should do well for my business," Suttipoch said.
He added that sushi is actually an art. Japanese culture describes it as "a beauty for the eyes", not just food.
Prannipa Naripho, another student of Lek Cooking School, said that she loves eating sushi and wishes to cook her own at home. For her, making sushi is a wonderful family activity. After a few hours in a class, Prannipa said that making sushi is not hard, but more practise will help.
About the author
- Writer: Sorawich Sontijirawong